Veterans make AT stop in Maggie

By Jessi Stone Assistant editor | Apr 02, 2014
Photo by: File photo Last year VFW Post 5202 in Waynesville hosted 13 veterans for dinner who were hiking all 2,185 miles of the Appalachian Trail as a transition process from their military service.

Fourteen veterans will be making a stop in Maggie Valley this Saturday as they “walk off the war” by hiking the Appalachian Trail.

The Warrior Hike “Walk off the War” program is a nonprofit, outdoor therapy program that supports veterans transitioning from military service by hiking all 2,185 miles of the Appalachian Trail.

Kim Greene, event coordinator for the Maggie Valley VFW Post 12132, is organizing a community event at the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds to welcome the veterans to town. This is the third year Greene has helped organize this event to honor veterans returning home from Afghanistan and Iraq.

“We want the public to come out and meet these guys who are hiking and share a burger with them,” Greene said.

The event will be held from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, April 5 at the festival grounds. There will be food and live music to enjoy while talking to the veterans and encouraging them on their journey. Admission to the festival grounds is free and money raised from food sales will go to support the VFW and Warrior Hike.

Cheyenne White, a senior at Tuscola High School, is helping Greene organize the event as part of her senior exit project. She is writing her research paper on Marine Corps jobs, which interests her because her older brother is a U.S. Marine who has served in Afghanistan and now is stationed at Camp Lejeune.

While the project only requires 10 hours of volunteer hours, White has far surpassed that requirement by working with the Warrior Hike event. But she said she is happy to help veterans and is looking forward to talking to them for her research, which she has to present April 15.

She hopes the AT trip helps these veterans overcome any Post Traumatic Stress Disorder they may be experiencing and helps them return to civilian life.

“Before there was transportation, soldiers used to hike back home now,” White said. “But now it’s like you’re fighting one day and the next you’re back home so there’s no transition. They go through some crazy stuff over there.”

The veterans should be arriving at the event between 3 to 5 p.m. depending on what time they get off the trail.

“This is just one of their stops along the way,” Greene said. “They started March 7 in Springer Mountain, Georgia and they’re on their way to Maine.”

While most of the veterans have served recently, Green said one is a Vietnam veteran who wanted to hike the trail to see if it would help with his PTSD.

The newly formed VFW in Maggie is proud to support this program that provides funding for the hike.  Granite Gear also has been a major supporter of this program.

Sean Gobin and Mark Silvers started the program two years ago. The two war veterans hiked the AT and stopped at VFW posts along the way to raise money for adaptive cars for amputee vets. At the end of the trail they had collected close to $50,000 for their cause. Gobin took the Warrior Hike in a new direction last year because of the therapeutic experience he had while walking the trail.

"Hiking over 2,000 miles during the course of six months really gives a veteran an opportunity to decompress and come to terms with their wartime experiences," said Gobin, a former Marine Corps captain. "Additionally, the camaraderie that is shared between our combat veterans and the trail town communities help facilitate their integration back into society."

In 2014, researchers from Georgia Southern University will measure the benefits of the “Walk Off The War” program and evaluate how a long-term wilderness experience affects the overall well-being of combat veterans. The goal of this research is to demonstrate that long-distance hiking can be used as an effective therapy to help veterans cope with PTSD.

To make a donation, visit www.warriorhike.com/donate.

For more information about this event, contact Kim Greene at 828-400-9701 or email g8790@bellsouth.net.

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